Students protest Milo Yiannopoulos appearance, using fake blood
New Brunswick, NJ
Student protesters responded to then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ presence on campus at Rutgers University by smearing their faces with fake blood. Yiannopoulos had been invited to speak there as part of his tour of universities to discuss the hypersensitivity of student populations. Protesters argued that Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric was designed to breed hate and that if a speaker poses a risk of making a person feel threatened or unsafe, he or she should not be invited to campus.
At the time, Milo Yiannopoulos was the technology editor of right-wing media website Breitbart News. He is primarily known for his inflammatory views on hot-button political issues such as LGBT rights and “political correctness.” In 2015, Yiannopoulos embarked on a speaking tour of colleges across the United States and Great Britain. Many of the appearances in Britain were cancelled, but Yiannopoulos spoke at quite a few American universities. The tour was revived in 2016 during the final months of the presidential election. Yiannopoulos argued that students should go to college expecting to discuss “dangerous” ideas.
Matthew Boyer, a member of the Rutgers Class of 2016, was president of the Rutgers chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty, a conservative student organization. He helped organize Yiannopoulos’ appearance and was active in the news media in the wake of the protests against him. Boyer criticized the protesters, saying that Yiannopoulos’ speech had value, even if many disagreed with the views he expressed. Boyer said that he had brought Yiannopoulos to Rutgers specifically to subject campus members to opinions to which they otherwise might not be exposed.
Yiannopoulos incorporated the presence of the protesters into his speech at Rutgers, saying they were proving his point. Among those who entered the space where Yiannopoulos was speaking, a woman was heard yelling that he represented hatred and that “black lives matter,” a popular rallying cry made relevant by the eponymous activist group. Two students smeared fake blood on their faces inside the auditorium, prompting boos from the audience, The Daily Targum reported. The crowd began to chant President Donald Trump’s name. In response, several other students stood up to smear fake blood on their faces as the original two protesters exited the room.
The protesters’ actions prompted rebukes on media websites. The New York Post’s editorial board condemned their behavior, pointing out that they seemed to prove Yiannopoulos’ point. The newspaper referred to the students’ actions not as protests but as “harassment.” The president of the Rutgers chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty, Matthew Boyer, penned a column for Brietbart News in which he agreed with many of Yiannopoulos’ points about the protesters, saying that he was “embarrassed to call these individuals my peers.”
Protest leaders, however, remained resolute in defending their decisions, saying that Yiannopoulos’ words crossed the line between Free Speech and hate speech. Nyuma Waggeh, a junior at Rutgers University, said that with the freedom of speech came the responsibility to ensure the safety of one’s peers, reports The Daily Targum.
Yiannopoulos tweeted the morning after the event, “Safe to say a few people were triggered last night.” This tweet referenced the concept of “trigger warnings,” or statements made before students or others are exposed to potentially controversial material, such as a book, movie, podcast, or other media, in order to alert the audience that it might upset them and “trigger” emotional reactions.
Yiannopoulos’ speech went on as planned
Despite protests against the controversial speaker, Yiannopoulos’ event went on as planned. And despite interruptions during the event itself, Yiannopoulos and other pundits agreed in its wake that the presence of protesters only served to reinforce its impact.
Prepared by Chris Castano ‘16
August 22, 2017